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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: Machinations of the Space Princess



This is a review of the RPG "Machinations of the Space Princess", published by Postmortem Studios, written by James Desborough, with illustrations throughout by Satine Phoenix. I mention the last one because I certainly think the particular style of the art is significant enough to make an impact, a psychological one at least, on the mentality the reader will approach the game with: the book itself (I'm reviewing the print edition) is a smallish-sized softcover some 232 pages long, with a glossy full-colour cover and black-and-white interiors; and the artwork borders between the cartoony and the sophisticated, with images that scream out "gonzo space opera".





I've been reviewing a number of sci-fi games with old-school leanings lately: there was Hulks & Horrors, Traveller (the Mongoose edition) and now this one.  You'd think it might get repetitive, but in fact each game has a slightly different and unique tone (I'll add all are also slightly different from Stars Without Number, as well).  Traveller (and SWN as well) is fairly serious, hard sci-fi.  H&H is still serious though not exactly hard, with a "dungeon crawling in space, with some weird stuff" motif.  

Machinations of the Space Princess is by far the most gonzo of the games in question.  The description the author provides for it is "Sexy, sleazy swords and sci-fi".
Of course, that's somewhat to be expected, given that the game is a sci-fi game derived from the "weird fantasy" game "Lamentations of the Flame Princess"; and written by the (fairly infamous) James "Grim" Desborough, a figure embroiled in (and, in my opinion frequently chasing) seemingly endless controversy that fuels outrage for his career and very person among the pseudo-activists of the hobby for what they perceive as his often offensive content.

The real question in reviewing the game, then, is just how well it stands up as a game, rather than an exercise in salacious offensiveness or posturing.  "Lamentations of the Flame Princess", for example, does quite a bit of posturing of its own (its creator James Raggi being somewhat of a like mind to Desborough in that sense), looking to intentionally shock with its content and art alike; but at the same time its one of the most kick-ass versions of D&D I've ever had the pleasure to read and play.

Does Machinations measure up?

Well, let's get started: to begin with, Machinations does involve a kind of assumed-setting, a little more detailed than LotFP does, but without really becoming a full-blown detailed setting a la Greyhawk or even Traveller's "Imperium". You won't find a vast chunk of detail on the specifics of the setting. Instead, most of the setting-implications are built-into the rules (for example, there's a vast variety of alien life, so you have a character creation system where you can mix and match all kinds of alien qualities), along with a few tid-bits of highly optional setting flavor (for example, on the bottom of each page there's a one-line phrase that details some kind of setting flavor, ie. "the Ghantian Church is bankrupting itself hiring assassins to take out pornographers", or "the book of Dai, a martial arts handbook, is a total scam traded by con artists").

The premise is that most of known space was governed for a thousand years by the Urlanth Matriarchy; this empire has now fallen into disarray when the previous Empress was assassinated unexpectedly and her 99 daughters took to fighting amongst themselves for the succession.  At the same time, various other groups who had chafed under the Matriarchy's rule have broken into rebellion, including various guilds/corporations and part of the (male) military that have embraced a radical "male liberation" ideology. Remember what I said about Desborough courting controversy?  This sort of background concept would probably be tolerable had anyone else written it up (though the pseudo-activists would complain about it regardless, unless of course it was one of their pet authors who was writing it, then it would be "brave"), but when its James Desborough who is doing the writing, he's basically once again painting a big target on his forehead.
Mind you, none of the above is extremely significant in terms of actual play; the setting is sufficiently "implicit" that a GM could choose to just totally ignore it, there's nothing in the game that forces you to bring sexual politics into a campaign if you don't want to, and most of us probably don't.

System-wise, being based off of LotFP, it plays (as LotFP) does, quite similar to Basic/Expert D&D. There are some variations from LotFP, however.  Saving Throws, for example, are a roll-under mechanic based on 1/2 their governing attribute.  Attributes can be rolled by a variety of methods.  There's complex race and skill choices to be made; more about these below.

Speaking of attributes, as well as the six standards, Desborough has added Unearth Arcana's "Comeliness" attribute, which we thought we'd never see again!  But there it is.
Now, one would think in what is described as a "Vast" galaxy filled with multitudinous aliens, physical attractiveness wouldn't be very important at all, and certainly wouldn't be something "objective"; one would assume that the prettiest human would be just as ugly as any of the rest to an 8-armed Insectoid creature of Deneb IV.  But no! Apparently in Desborough's world, how hot you are follows objective boundaries across species.  I mean, I know why he says he did it (because its supposed to be "sexy sci-fi") and I know why he really did it (because he's obsessed with getting attention to himself and courting controversy as the perviest RPG designer on earth... and let me say, after reading Courtesans, much less Maid or Carcossa, he's got his work cut out for him, because Machinations is all pretty mild stuff really compared to things in those, or in a whole lot of the Forge games you never hear the Pseudo-activists complain about).  But seriously, did Desborough really have to include comeliness? I think it (and all the other allegedly "titillating" parts of this game) add nothing to what would otherwise be a solid production.

One interesting but problematic detail about character creation is the "race traits": to simulate a setting that is supposed to have an immense plethora of alien species, a long list of different physical, cultural, and miscellaneous qualities have been provided.  A PC can choose up to three of these without penalty, beyond those choices he starts to lose points to his various ability scores. Traits include a wide variety of things, from qualities like venemous, to cultural qualities like "spiritual", to exotic stuff like "methane-based". My main problem with this is that its not done by some kind of random system; instead, the expectation is that players will look through the VERY long list of stuff, and go along picking stuff up; I suspect this would lead to a stupid amount of min-maxing and a very lengthy character creation process.
To be fair, in the appendix at the end a few sample races are provided, as well as tables for random trait generation.  I do think, however, that these should have been the default, and selection the option.  That would have been more in keeping with old-school play.

There are four basic classes in the game: Expert, Killer, Psion and Scholar.  These are all pretty self-evident in terms of what they do, though there will be more info about psychic powers later.

The Skills system will only add to the complexities of character creation (one of the best features of LotFP is how fast character creation works; clearly that is not something that gets repeated here, between racial traits and skill choices). Skills are divided into different categories (like "everyman", "general", "Scholastic" etc) and each has its own list of potential skills. Classes get a set number of skill points with which to buy stuff. Skills aren't just knowledge-type skills, but also stuff like "sneak attack", or combat skills that often mimic 3e-style feats.  There's also "psi skills" which are not the main powers of a psionicist but additional stuff they can get (like psychic defense to reduce damage from psychic attacks, or training that reduces an opponent's saves against your own psychic attacks).

In all, while there's an impressive amount of material for fooling around with character creation, I'm very unimpressed by how it fails to keep the old-school aesthetic of structured fast character creation in favor of a "choose whatever you like"-type of process which is time consuming and leads to attempts at character optimization.  I think Desborough's lack of experience or natural affinity with the OSR is shining through here: this is not his natural environment.

Experience, leveling, hit points, etc. all seem to work in pretty much the standard way; with the notable exception that the rules as written state that any money earned that isn't spent by the end of the adventure is lost in "carousing".  This definitely isn't Traveller; it isn't even standard-play D&D; characters in Machinations can never end up being wealthy, though with these rules they'll always be as well-equipped as possible.  I don't particularly care for these rules, because of course it ends up taking options away from the PCs; you can't have a player character that wants to become rich (at least, not successfully).

Armor works as damage reduction rather than AC bonus by default; and there are rules to optimize or specialize armor.
Weapons, at their most basic level, are kept very simple, but once again like armor they are provided with all kinds of options for specialization.

Starships are handled with statblocks, and operate on a level of "scale" (where for example, the damage one can do to a starship is divided, or multiplied, by the "scale" of the starship relative to the weapon).  There are some very basic examples, but once again you have a big list of potential customizations.

There's also all kinds of miscellaneous equipment, retainers and services, and also cybernetics.  The latter can be better than their flesh-and-blood equivalents, but also bring with them risks of ability score loss or mental problems.

Next we get to basic task resolution; skills are rolled on a simple D6 (in the same style as specialist skills in LotFP); and there are rules for things like disease, poison, radiation, recreational drugs, falling, wilderness survival, the vacuum of space, sneaking, healing, etc.
Later on, there are also rules for wealth levels and basic lifestyle maintenance. 

The combat system is pretty standard and aside from aforementioned details isn't too different from LotFP's.  There is a cool "permanent injury" table for those who have survived being brought down to negative hp. 

The starship combat section is only a couple of pages long, and it suggests that in Machinations, everyone who is on board ought to get to participate in some fashion and that "these things aren't just empty gestures", but here there is no particular quantification of how PC actions should be meaningful (aside from pilots or gunners, of course, which is pretty straightforward). There's a vague implication that things any other character does can add a point to a ship's statistic for a round, or repair a point of damage, but given that some of the suggestions include "offer moral encouragement", that brings us right into abstract-mechanic territory, which I'd consider a big OSR-no-no.

Psionics work in a way similar to spells; with psionic powers having different levels (from level 1 to level 9 in power).  A psionic PC can choose a certain number of powers, and has a certain number of points he spends to use each power. The powers are often direct equivalents to certain D&D spells. The list is not incredibly large, but certainly large enough to accommodate a basic campaign.

There's about six pages of very straightforward sort-of-simplistic "advice for players" (though I have to admit, the idea of advice for players is in and of itself refreshing, since normally we only get a "GM advice section"); then about 14 pages of advice for GMs too, properly speaking.  It includes advice like how to express a "big" universe, how to bring the "sexy" (nothing explicit, though also not very useful, but it tells me a few things about what Desborough believes to be the definition of "sexy"; including "cool guns", "biker jackets", "musky scents", "simple and understandable motivations... the desire for food, sex, money and power being the top four", and everything from what we do with "computers, advertising, cities, crime, drugs and sex... and dial it up to eleven").  He also explains how to bring on the "sleazy": "sleaze is a certain aesthetic, that of the bar and strip club, that of biker clubs and bawdy houses, of adult book stores".  I don't know about you, but I don't particularly want my RPG campaign to take on the ambiance of an 'adult book store'. 

The GM is also given some very basic instructions on how to put together an adventure, and what to avoid (like railroading).  The section then moves seamlessly into a more practical (and mechanical) set of subjects, like templates for designing traps, creating monsters, generating "goons" (of different degrees, from "cannon fodder" to "hard bastards"). 
After that, it shifts back again into the less concrete and equally less useful, talking about how to put a group together and where to play; do people really need this kind of advice?! I skipped all this bullshit altogether when I designed any of my games, because I simply assume that 99% of the people who will buy my small-press game are ALREADY GAMERS.  I don't really need someone to tell me "gaming shops often have play spaces that you can use to meet up at".  Really? Does anyone seriously think that's really going to be a necessary piece of advice to 99.9999% of anyone who will ever give a second glance to a small-press hobby-driven RPG?!

Ok, let's move on: we get to the section of how to make worlds. First, there's a random table of 100 plot hooks related to a world.  That tells me at least that this section has its priorities straight: generate what could be interesting to the PCs about this world, and THEN design the mechanics of it. The rules for planet creation are pretty simple, mercifully based on random tables (unlike almost any of the other rules for design of anything so far), and sort-of take inspiration from Traveller but are clearly far more gonzo. You roll a D20 for "type of world", for example, with lists like "desert world", "ice world", "tomb world", "city world", etc. And governments are generated the same way.  None of Traveller's careful mathematics here, but I think it probably works for Machinations.  There's also rules for planetary allegiance (ie. are they part of the Empire, or allied to one of the rebel factions), religion and religiosity, population and cosmopolitanism, and a d100 table for "interesting features".

Next up, there's a sample adventure: "The Siege of the Proxima Bar". Its intended to be introductory, its about 10 pages long, and there's nothing particularly special about it; there isn't even anything particularly salacious about it; with the exception of the presence of a pair of "stripperbots", and a bunch of rampaging naked clones (male clones, if that makes any difference), neither of which are played up for any kind of "naughtiness"... at least, I'm really hoping that this isn't what Desborough thinks of when he thinks "sexy".  If so, he certainly shouldn't take up a career in romance writing (shit, or even porn writing).

In the last real section of the book, you get a listing of some sample goons and sample creatures, only about 6 pages worth, but hey, its something.

The appendix or "reference" at the back is quite detailed: it contains the aforementioned sample races and trait generation tables (as well as random tables to determine appearance), sample detailed weapons and armor, sample ships and vehicles, optional carousing tables to determine everything you did with all that lost money (the tables are quite detailed), a list and summary of all the species traits, and finally the character sheet.

So to conclude: first of all, in spite of the author, and the claims the author makes, this game is neither particularly sexy nor exceedingly sleazy.  As usual with James Desborough, what we do get is a touch of sophomoric (I'd dare to say adolescent) titillation and cheap controversy that is radically overblown both by the author himself and his howling critics.  

But in that case, how does it hold up as a game? Particularly, in comparison to other old-school sci-fi games?  For starters, the production values are better than Hulks & Horrors, though not quite as good as Stars Without Number or Mongoose Traveller (though depending on one's artistic tastes, some people might enjoy Satine Phoenix's drawings more than what they'd find in those other games).

In terms of mechanics, I think that Machinations is certainly more complete than H&H, but its also less streamlined; furthermore, its less elegant than Trav or SWN.  If you use random tables for racial traits, you avoid one major pitfall of the system in terms of the length and potential for abuse inherent in character creation, but even then you still have skills to contend with.  These complexities of a burdened character creation system run counter to one of the central points of appeal of old-school play: the quick generation of characters.

All in all, if you like any of the games I mentioned above, or likewise if you're a Lamentations of the Flame Princess fan, you'll be likely to find stuff you'll like about Machinations too.  Its got some flaws, but there's certainly a good amount of redeemable material about it too. On the whole, I'm lukewarm here.


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Winslow Crown Cutty + C&D's Crowley's Best

(originally posted November 28, 2013)

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Everyjoe Tuesday: Feminisms & History Edition

Today on Everyjoe, I talk about feminisms (yes, there are very different kinds!), and the academic study of history and what is and should be its relationsship to femism.  And therein I link to the Greyhawk Grognard and Mandy Morbid, among others!


So, check it out, plus one it, reshare it!

RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary + Image latakia

NOTE: As previous, I'm disabling comments on this entry so that you can go put your comments on the article itself.  I'd be grateful for any comments you might wish to make.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Pundit-Notes From The Great Forge Reunion Battle of 2015 Part 4: the GM isn't an Author, he's God

Pundit-Notes From the Great Forge Reunion Battle of 2015

Wherein Ron Edwards Complained That People Still Remembered "Brain Damage", and Were Still mad at him for it;
and Wherein Ron Edwards Tried to Take Credit for the OSR


Part 4

The Real Solution to the "GM as Author" Problem


The point of an RPG isn't to 'simulate reality'.  Emulation isn't realism. I could be like Ron Edwards and refer you to the essays and threads about this on theRPGsite.com, and say that if you don't read those 4 threads of 30 pages average each spread over 6 years, you can't really engage in meaningful discussion about this.

But I'll make it simple: no set of RULES can create a "realistic" game, and realism is a nonsense-word that means whatever someone wants it to at the time (usually to argue about how science and all logic tells us a Katana should be able to "slice clean through" a tank, or other such completely unrealistic things).

But a well-trained GM can create a virtual world.   And that world can approach levels of internal consistency and verisimilitude that allow players to achieve an Immersion-state in it.

That's the fundamental flaw of the entirety of Forge Theory and everything Edwards and his followers and successors (including all Storygames) did.  They looked at shitty games (vampire) run by shitty GMs who'd been trained in the "GM is Author" style, where the players are little more than observers of the 'genius artiste' GM weaving a tale for them, and understandably felt it was total crap.   One thing Edwards and I never disagreed about was just how shitty White Wolf's entire philosophy of RPGs was.

But the answer Edwards came up with (and everyone after him followed) was INSANE.  

The right answer to the atrociousness of the White Wolf era would be to say "we need to go back, and make the game NOT about 'making a story' and instead about playing in a virtual world like it used to be".   But Forge's answer was "we need to change the fundamental way RPGs work so that they can actually do story!!".

The right answer to "GM as author" would be "we have to train GMs in what their job actually is, and show them how to create worlds, and generally encourage the role of the GM and the skills needed.  The GM shouldn't be an author, he should be the fair Architect-God of a world; and we need to show people how being a God is more fun than being a pseudo-author and will please your players more, because then they have the freedom to actually be active agents in a world".  
The Forge's answer was "we need to castrate the GM and make him completely powerless so he can't hurt our games ever again.  he should get to do NOTHING other than be the delivery-boy for the game designer's rules".

The emphasis with the Forge and Storygamers is always "the Gm cannot change the rules as written, he's not allowed to!", with the sole exception of when it suits them to lie about it to try to win an argument or deceive regular gamers into thinking their products are rpgs.


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Alternate Universe Sunday: What if John Lennon had Been Killed in the Early 1980s?


So last night, The Wench and I watched the Beatles performance on SNL (EDIT: link removed since Youtube seems to have blocked the video), and she was all like "the Beatles? Are they still a thing??" (she's not as musically inclined as I am, but seriously...) and then she's like "Wait, how the fuck is John Lennon alive??"

She was seriously totally convinced that John Lennon had been shot sometime in the early 1980s, like, a few years before she was even born (I don't know if I mentioned it but the Wench is a few years younger than I am).  I was wracking my mind trying to figure what the fuck she was talking about?? I mean seriously, how could you be that fucking confused?  I know that until recently the Beatles hadn't made a decent album in years (most of her lifetime, to be fair, though I mean Real Love was a pretty huge album and coincided with their 30th anniversary anthology in '93, and she would certainly have been old enough to remember those!), but really, they're only the most famous rock band of all time.   On further conversation she also thought they'd broken up in 1969 (there she obviously got them confused with the Stones) and that George Harrison had actually died from his stint with throat cancer.
I really have no idea who she confused with Lennon who got murdered in the 80s, though...  Marvin Gaye?  Andy Warhol?  Jodie Foster?! No idea.

Anyways, she seemed pretty flabbergasted by their presence on the show; I thought their set was pretty good,  I quite liked "some people never know", and I think it highlights how in their dotage the Beatles have finally given up on trying to keep up with the young folks and gimmicky duets and all that shit, and as of these last couple of albums are back to doing music in their style which, if not quite on par with their classic albums like "Sgt. Pepper" or "Instant Karma", is way better than anything recent.  It's the best of their classic style with only a slight touch of concession to indie aesthetics (but then, they mostly inspired all the indie kids these days, so it's only fair).  From what I heard, the new album does have a couple of songs that were written back in the 70s but never recorded. All in all, I think Let Me Roll It is a pretty great album, though I think I liked the slightly less rock n' rolly Intuition album from two years ago a bit more.

Anyways, imagine what a shitty alternate universe it would have been, even with their various mistakes along the way, if the Beatles' last album had been Let it Be.    On the other hand, I do have to wonder what 45 years of more Rolling Stones albums might have been like; it might have spared us the horror of Mick Jagger trying to rap  (EDIT: sorry, link removed again; damn it, youtube!).


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Saturday, 24 January 2015

DCC Campaign Update: "I Love you, Dr.Theobald!"



In today's adventure, the PCs were surprised to find:

-That they'd figured out a new method to get rid of Cold Mutant "Deciders": get them high with a magic staff and then have their own people throw them off a balcony.

-That the Cold Mutants don't care much for visions; the old shaman used to get those, and they threw him off something for it.

-That the universal tactic for kidnapping someone (throughout the various planes, even) is to tap someone on the shoulders and say "excuse me mister" while a partner sucker-punches them from behind.

-That their party's cleric can be completely missing for well over 24 hours without anyone even noticing.

-That for Ricandra, to only steal the nominal sum of 10ep from your party-mates room while investigating their possible kidnapping is "being nice".

-That it doesn't matter how much you turn up the heat in Ice Dome Zero, Cold Mutants are always cold; it's just a racial trait.

-That the Plane of Jade is ruled over by the extremely old Jade Empress, who has been kidnapping the handsomest humanoids in all the material plane, to have them participate in 'the games' to see which will be her consort for life.

-That she means their life, not hers, since Material Plane humanoids are absurdly short-lived compared to Jade People.

-That by "games" she means a series of duels to the death, using what they call "Thunderdome Rules".

-That Jade People don't know much about the biology of carbon-based humanoids from the material plane, and didn't actually know the difference between humans and elves.

-That if you're a cleric in this party and you've been kidnapped, you hold no hope or expectation that your team-mates will bother to rescue you; so plan B for you is to convince the Jade People to kidnap your whole party too.

-That Rick/Ricandra, even in male form, registers as 'female' to Jade People sensors.

-That when in doubt on these matters, the Jade People use something called "the Probe" to make sure.

-That "the Probe" is not nearly as ominous or uncomfortable as it sounds.

-That when you need to understand a bit more of the context of Jade Person society, you need to get the help of a Historiologist, and a Carbonologist as well.

-That you can tell who the Historiologist is because of his ridiculous hat.

-That the Jade Court is getting quite desperate, as the Empress is pretty venerable at this point, and still hasn't been able to produce a single heir from any of her material-realm consorts.

-That the basic "birds and bees" of just how Jade people reproduce (it involves chips/shavings off their bodies) doesn't in any way sound like something any humanoid has any business, or indeed even capability, of being involved in.

-That in fact, it's biologically impossible for Jade People and humanoids from a completely different plane to reproduce together; but no one in the Plane of Jade had realized this until just now.

-That Chok the Cold Mutant, who got kidnapped by accident with the PCs, thinks that the Jade Empress' interest in humans who live one-millionth her lifespan and don't seem compatible with her reproductive needs sounds a little bit like what a guy in his tribe named "Orkuk the Penguin-Lover" gets up to.

-That actually, someone HAD apparently realized this before now, and is quite willing to murder Jade People scientists in order to keep the secret.

-That the whole thing may be a set-up from within; and the Jade Empress has been in it all along because as soon as she produces a male heir she won't be in power anymore.

-That the Games Co-ordinator has started to figure out what the Scientist died for, and after getting the whole story from Ricandra and realizing that he's been forced to run over a million 'games' in his career instead of just one, he's come to the conclusion that the Empress is a complete bitch.

-That, even when presented with a viable escape plan to get the fuck out of there and be done with it, the party decides to stay, because they haven't really done their job if they don't utterly ruin every place they visit.

-That Bill the Elf in particular won't be satisfied if he doesn't leave the Plane of Jade in utter politico-social chaos and possible civil war.

-That things get complicated when the Games Co-ordinator has mysteriously disappeared.  Now the Historiologist has to be the new Co-ordinator, because that's the "natural line of succession".

-That no one in any of the various cultures of the Last Sun seem to have any rational way of organizing anything.

-That the old Co-ordinator may have been murdered by the Empress' Chief Intelligencer, Lord Wallhead.

-That Wallhead's agent (named "Stone; Jade Stone") has a few questions for the PCs.

-That while Stone learns very little from them, the PCs are able to deduct from Stone's questioning that in fact the Co-ordinator is not dead.  Unfortunately, he does seem to have used the Jade Empire's great planar gate to flee into hiding in fear of his life, and won't be of any help in getting Bill his violent revolution.

-That while Jade People don't need to eat organic matter, they realize that their humanoid captives do, so they provide them with decorative crystal baskets of colorful fruit.

-That since Jade People also don't have any need for toilets, the decorative crystal baskets, once bereft of fruit, serve a dual-purpose.

-That while the rest of the PCs will now have to fight to the death in "the games", Ricandra may be of some help in any future plans as she has had her request granted to remain on the Plane of Jade as a spectator of the games, and been invited to spend the games in the "Empress' Box".

-That "the Empress' Box" is not a reference to her special area in the Thunderdome, but to a literal small locked box next to the Empress' viewing throne.

-That the first day of the games would consist of 16 gladiatorial fights among 32 contestants, and the next day would be the 'round of 16'.

-That among the other prisoners present for this round of the games are: a savage looking Apeman, some kind of Insect-man, a human peasant with a bucket and a frog, a tough looking ranger, a floating wizard with enough corruption and patron-taint on him to make it obvious he's really powerful, a non-floating wizard who is clearly of lower level, a sneaky rogue that may be from Arkhome, an Emo Elf, an Ogre named Trog who seems to be the only person that actually willingly wants to participate, a hapless cleric named Marvin, and a bunch of guys who look like 1st level cannon fodder.

-That the savage-looking Apeman is actually named "Doctor Theobald", and is an erudite scholar with an upper-crust English accent and a pipe.  The peasant with the Bucket for a helmet, on the other hand, is named Jethro Bucket, and he really is a moron.

-That there's also a last-minute replacement for Ricandra who is a barbarian warrior-babe in bikini chainmail named Sandy, that is 100% biologically female; pretty much proving that the jig is up and everyone in power knows the games are a scam.

-That after a lot of arguing (getting 32 adventurers to agree on anything is pretty hard) the plan becomes to make it seem that the Empress reveals her deception to her people, and then kill her (making it look like a suicide if possible by magically pushing her off the balcony, but if not just magic-missiling her to death), in the hopes of causing an immediate succession war and high-tailing it out of the dimension with as much loot as they can steal, before anyone notices.

-That in order to stop Trog the Ogre from spilling the beans, you just have trick him into eating Jethro's hallucinogenic frog.

-That if you're stuck in the Empress' Box waiting for the Empress to arrive and the games to start, it's probably not a good idea to hint at your plan to kill the Empress to some random noble who sat down next to your box.

-That its a particularly bad idea if that random noble turns out to be Lord Wallhead, the Empress' Royal Intelligencer.

-That since Ricandra is a threat to the Empress, and the Empress' box cannot be opened except by her command, the only solution for Wallhead is to take the whole box with Ricandra in it to his offices.

-That when you're left alone inside a locked jade box in the headquarters of the Secret Police, it's convenient that you have a constant magic-missile floating around your head to gradually carve your way out of the box.

-That the whole elaborate plan to kill the Empress at the start of "the games" is only any good until your keen elven eyes realize that's not the Empress up on the balcony but her body-double.

-That a cleric can save the day by using Word of Command to force everyone in the Empress' Balcony to "Confess".

-That everyone in the Royal Balcony had some dark secret to tell, except that one guard who's really fucking boring (though he confesses he secretly wishes he could have something interesting to confess).

-That the Empress' Body-double speaks in an Australian accent, for no good reason.

-That Wallhead's assistant confirms that in fact the Royal council had known about her plan all along, and the Empress just doesn't give a shit what happens to the Jade Empire after she finally croaks childless.

-That at least one distant member of the royal family was already planning to assassinate the Empress and try to take power.

-That the accumulated weight of all these secrets causes a general panic among the crowd.

-That the Jade Guard are rendered less effective without anyone to give them immediate orders, once the ranger fires a grenade-arrow into the Royal Balcony, causing all the people ostensibly in charge to flee for their lives.

-That Jade Guardsmen are really tough. Like, survive a grenade-arrow tough.

-That if you get out of the Empress' Box and leave behind a pair of Cobalt Mines as a trap for Lord Wallhead when he returns, it would have been better to make damn sure you were going to be farther away than the front lawn when the mines get triggered. And ideally, you'd have been wise to make sure it was Wallhead who triggered them, and not Agent Jade Stone, of her Majesty's Secret Jade Service, who already desperately wants to use his License to Kill on you.

-That with enough team-work, getting out of the Thunderdome arena would probably be a real possibility; so of course the 32 adventurers almost immediately split into various groups with completely different plans.  About 18 of them die almost immediately, too.

-That Dr. Theobald is a cool ape under pressure, and a good ape to have when you're trying to find the way out of Thunderdome, and over to the Planar Gate to destroy it (not so much so that the Jade Empress can't keep kidnapping humanoids from the material plane to use in her death matches, but so that the Jade Empress can't get any ideas of sending revenge squads after you personally; never let it be said this PC party did anything for purely selfless reasons).

-That when you're about to be brutally murdered by a 100% Jade version of 007, if you're a member of this PC party, you will gladly sell out your team-mate's plan to save your own hide.

-That with just about every Royal Guardsman busy protecting the royal palace from complete chaos, the Jade Empire Institute of Jade Sciences is practically undefended. Except by Jade Empire Science-Nerds.

-That even a Jade Nerd-fight can be pretty dangerous, given that Jade Nerd Fists do a D8+1 damage and the average Jade Nerd has 7 times more hit points than the average human.

-That if you're the Jade Nerd scientist who invented the Planar Gate (and probably the only one who could rebuild it), it's probably a bad idea to say so in an angry nerd-tone to the guys who just came in to destroy the gate forever.

-That things only get worse when Secret Agent Jade Stone busts down the door ready to shoot at anything in his path, using Rick/Ricandra as a human (or rather elven) shield.

-That Sandy the Bikini Chain Mail Barbarian can fortunately kick Agent Jade Stone's jade ass; particularly with a bit of help from Jethro Bucket (who has turned out to be a surprisingly efficient 0-level redneck).

-That when the Planar Gate is destroyed, the Jade Secret Agent is dead, and an entire plane is plunged into social ruin, it's time to planewalk it out of there back to Ice Dome Zero.  And to take the survivors of "the games" with you (which happen to be Dr. Theobald, Sandy the Bikini Chainmail Warrior Woman, Jethro Bucket, Jal-udin the backstabbing rogue, and Marvin the Cleric).

That was it for this session; good fun was (as always) had by all.  Now, the PCs plan to recover, try to talk Dr. Theobald to stay on (he's rapidly become their favorite ape-man scientist; but he plans to return to the Southern Ape Kingdoms as quickly as possible), and finally get down to the business of tracking down Feld (son of Feldstein) the dwarf and the stolen treasure hoard of Tiamat.

RPGPundit

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Addendum: A note on DCC Elves
Someone asked me if "elven barista' came out of a misreading (an intentional one, in this case, similar to accidental misreadings that has been made before) of the Elven Barrister profession?

Well, sort of: before the campaign even started, I read that and thought "barista" and then came up with the idea that in my DCC world all the elves are useless Hipsters, essentially the "Trust fund babies" of the Last Sun, living in the (illusory) security of their Dome (cities) where their every need is cared for by machines and they are free to argue about fashion, drink increasingly complex beverages and pretend they're writing a novel.   The whole thing being a long slow decadence, since the Ancients vanished, and G.O.D. went mad, and the Dwarves were driven out of their Machineholds by the Dark Ones, so there's nothing to keep the systems the Elves depend on going.  Most of the domes already failed; the remaining Hipster Elves in the remaining domes happily whittle away their lives on trivialities not realizing that the machines they depend on will sooner or later screw up and then they'll all be dead because of how useless they are (or almost always, there's in each generation a handful of useful elves, among which we hope are the PCs).

Later on in the campaign it was revealed that there are more than just one type of Elves: There were, beside the Hipster Elves, also the Smug Elves and the Emo Elves, both of which also live in domes. There was also, apparently some great kickass empire of warrior elves known as the Pythian Knights, who totally destroyed themselves (it would seem) several thousand years back. They had fleets of sky-ships and apparently lived up on the flying rocks that orbit the sun.   It's not yet clear what relation, if any, these elves had to the Dome Elves.

===

Friday, 23 January 2015

Pundit-Notes From The Great Forge Reunion Battle of 2015 Part 3

Pundit-Notes From the Great Forge Reunion Battle of 2015
Wherein Ron Edwards Complained That People Still Remembered "Brain Damage", and Were Still mad at him for it;
and Wherein Ron Edwards Tried to Take Credit for the OSR


Part 3


On the suggestion that the conflating of  Storygames and RPGs happened through accident:  No, it was done intentionally by someone, and that 'someone' was Ron Edwards.  And he did it very much on purpose.  He could have been the father of a new hobby, but instead he took the more cowardly route of latching onto an existing hobby like a parasite and trying to change that hobby's entire definition.



On the claim that opposing the Storygamers' attempted re-definition of RPGs is like being mad because 'cheerleading is not a "real" sport':   Cheerleading is a sport, sure. But you can't just show up in the cheerleader 'scene' and claim that what "getting paid to have sex with guys" is the true and 'coherent' form of cheerleading, and how it always should have been done, and that most cheerleaders are secretly miserable about all the jumps they have to do and not satisfied because they aren't being paid to have sex.  And then, years later, to claim you invented football.


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Beat this for "Weird Thought of the Day": Mormons are all Sex-magicians


Yes, I'm being serious.

I was reading up some articles on the subject of the Mormon responses to gay marriage etc. when suddenly it dawned me: Mormons are practicing a kind of ('heretical', by most other denominations' standards) Christian Sex-magic.  Its the reason why, while at the same time that they might not be as directly judgmental or angry as certain other Christian sects at the thought of widespread social acceptance of gay marriage or the reality of transgenderism, they will have a much harder time ever being able to accept those things.  They can't, it doesn't fit in their system.

You see.. shit, where do I even begin to explain what I'm talking about? Ok, first of all, let's start very simple: Almost all modern christian denominations consider "family" a really important value (this in spite of Jesus having famously told his followers to abandon and even 'hate' theirs).  But Catholics, or Baptists, or whatever generally consider 'family' important for a number of exoteric reasons: social cohesion, they think that its the best way of bringing up children, the transmission of values, etc.

On the other hand, for Mormons, family is one of the absolutely CENTRAL elements of their spiritual practice.  You know that part in most christian weddings where the couple take their vows and say "till death do us part"?  Death is the parting-moment because for most Christians marriage is a worldly phenomenon; some denominations (Catholics, for example) even famously consider that its a better spiritual state to be utterly chaste and unmarried.
But Mormons? They don't have that "death do us part" bit.  No, you see, they get "sealed" in marriage, for all eternity.

Ok, that's sweet and kind of creepy, you say; fine, Mormons get married for all eternity, but where does the sex magic come in?



(as the magic underwear shows, I'm not saying Sex Magic is always Sexy)




The answer is in the esoteric elements of Mormon religion: the reason why Mormons consider marriage, and specifically man-woman marriage so important, is because of those wackier beliefs they have where they don't look much like regular Christians at all. You see, for Mormons, you don't just go to heaven when you die, you go off to become rulers of another planet, much like the Mormon version of God rules from the planet Kolob.  You (a man, of course) go to your new world with your wife (originally wives) and children to rule as a patriarch and new father-god.

Sex is so important in Mormon mystical theology that Mormon doctrine claims that Jesus had married and had children; some say this was so that Joseph Smith could claim to be a physical descendant of Christ, but this is really just a by-product; the real reason is that it is through "sealing", through creating an earthly family that mirrors that of "heavenly father", and doing so successfully, one will be judged worthy to be elevated to the status of a god.

This is classic Sex-magic practices right there.  Its only a few steps divorced from the sort of stuff you'd find Crowley writing about, or what you'd see in some Eastern Tantric or Taoist Alchemical stuff.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Mormons are sex-maniacs or something like that (I'm sure that like all the rest of us, some are, and some aren't).  The "sex magic" they're doing is clearly of a very prudish orthodox sort (particularly after they got rid of "plural marriage"), filled with family values and cheesy music and goofy-looking dresses that don't show any skin; its not a Bacchanalia.

But the essential formula is a magical formula: to get to become a god you must:
a) be baptized in the faith
b) obtain priesthood status (which, by the way, gives you all kinds of magic powers, like the authority to lead prayers or to lay on hands in blessing)
c) discover the inner mysteries of the temple (with its aprons, veils, and secret-handshakes all borrowed from Masonic ritual)
d) be "sealed" in a divine wedding that binds you to a female soul for all eternity (originally it could be more than one female soul).
e) produce offspring and raise them successfully
all while keeping to the other general doctrines of the Mormon faith.

If you do these things, then you undergo an apotheosis, becoming a God, and going with your wives and unmarried children to form a divine family, where you in turn will create worlds and populate them with spirits that may also one day have a chance to become gods of their own.

So anyways, this is the reason why even if Mormons could choose to act nice about it, they just can't ever accept gays and lesbians, much less the transgendered, as part of the "plan".  Its why people like Orson Scott Card (Mormon) or Glenn Beck (Mormon) lose their shit at how GLBT will "destroy civilization": note, not just 'is sinful' or 'depraved' or something like that, but "destroy civilization"; because it RUINS THE MAGICK FORMULA, and thus brings down the collapse of sacred culture as surely as the White Jewish-Christian Pre-Columbian North American "Nephites" were brought down into wickedness (and eventually destroyed by the evil Black-skinned Pre-Columbian North American "Lamanites") as it is written in the Book of Mormon.

The sex magick formula Mormons use is very strict: Man (Priesthood Holder prereq) + Woman (Sealed to him in the Temple) + offspring (the product of their sexual alchemy & producing a full and proper mirror of the celestial family of Heavenly Father) = Kolob/Godhood!

It can't be man + man, or woman + woman, or Man + Woman-who-was-born-male, or any other combination because then the babies don't happen; no babies means no planet (because you only need to be God of your own planet if you're going to produce celestial-children who will in turn continue the process).

So there we go.  I should add before I close, though, that you shouldn't get all self-righteous about those wacky Mormons.  Most religions have a ritual magick undertone to them, when you scratch the surface deeply enough; certainly all Christianity does.  Its because religion is really just one big cargo-cult for magick, when it comes down to it.  Of course the difference is that, like a cargo cult, their abandoned relics of once-useful technology doesn't actually work anymore. 

RPGPundit

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(originally posted November 19, 2013)